Business Lessons from Ruth Bader Ginsburg



September 18, 2020, in the midst of a chaotic and tumultuous year, we lost one of the greatest legends of this lifetime. I tried to share how I felt at the time in this reflection of Ruth Bader Ginsburg shortly after her passing. 

If you aren’t already aware, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the inspiration behind RAYNE IX. So if you’re wondering why we’re connecting these dots, alas, that is why. As Ruth left us with many legacies, policies, and change in the name of what’s right and equitable, the lessons she left us with are applicable to many areas of our lives, business being one of them.

So let’s take a look at some of the business lessons learned from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the almighty and notorious RBG.

Lead with your heart as well as your head

Ruth donned many titles, leader being one of them. Ruth led in ways the world had never seen before. She shattered glass ceilings and then swept away shards so no one would cut their feet following her. One of her many quotes is “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” This rings so true for me as there are many ways to stand up for the things that light you on fire. There are many ways to lead. But to do so in a way that others follow and not just witness, that’s powerful. That creates change.

Challenge the status quo

One of the reasons Ruth Bader Ginsburg earned the reputation she did was because she did many things that were never done before. And, while at that time, some of them may have seemed radical, now many of us find ourselves wondering how we could have ever existed without the paths she paved for us. Challenge the status quo. Ask questions. Be curious. Never accept “this is how it’s always been done” as an answer. Push to always be better.

Plant seeds for the future

Ruth is also famously known for her dissent collar. While there are many opinions to be had here, in short, a dissent is an open statement of disagreement with your colleagues. Again, we know Ruth ruffled feathers as she was not afraid to speak her truth. However, she was also incredibly forward thinking. In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition in 2002, she said “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.” Know that while what you’re doing now and the decisions you make now may not be popular or widely accepted, they are the seeds that create the realities of the future. Start planting.

Play the long game

In Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she is quoted saying “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” We do this work to create change. And we all have 10-year, 5-year, 3-year, and 1-year game plans. We have these plans because we have a vision we want to see through to fruition. However, we must practice patience, because every small step we make now is a building block for the future we’re seeking. Yes to your plan. Yes to your spreadsheets. Yes to the meetings and the payroll and the daily challenges. Keep your eye on the long-term game plan, but enjoy and find gratitude in the steps you are working so hard to take every day to make change happen. It’s a process.

Put in the work

Ruth was one of nine women to go through Harvard’s class of 500 and a new mother, nonetheless. She faced gender discrimination from the highest authorities on numerous occasions, at one point stating she was taking a man’s place in the class. She was the fourth woman to serve on the Harvard Law Review. When her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer, she not only attended her classes, but also attended his carrying him through graduation. When forced to relocate to New York with only a year left in her education at Harvard, she was denied the opportunity to finish her degree remotely, so she transferred to Columbia where she served on the Columbia Law Review, making her the first woman to serve on both Law Reviews. Again, she overcame gender discrimination on multiple occurrences in her career as she earned strategic credentials including tenured professor at Columbia, director of the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, and ultimately, justice on the United States Supreme Court. Ruth is a shining example to never let anything get in the way of what you want. She wanted it all and, by golly, she earned every single inch of it.

Take your shot and own it

When Ruth was presented with the opportunity to fight for gender discrimination in Moritz vs Commissioner of Internal Revenue, the first case she argued in front of the Supreme Court, she saw this as her foot in the door and she took it. She fought and won on behalf of a 63-year-old bachelor trying to care for his elderly mother. This win put RBG on the map for the first of many cases she strategically took on to support inequalities in American policies. Her career went on to for gender discrimination and inequalities across numerous categories, and she very intentionally took each case to create the path, and change, she envisioned for herself and for the future of this country.

The list truly could go on and on. When taking a look at the values I hold dear, Ruth truly encapsulates so many of them. Taking a look at the lessons she has taught me and applying them to the business world is just one of many ways they can be viewed.

So take them for what they’re worth. Try on your own lens. But I encourage you to consider Ruth when you lead, challenge, plant, play and work.

Go make your mark. The world needs you.